Thursday, August 21, 2014

title pic Week 1 of the 50s Dress Sewalong – How to Fit Your Pattern

Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on August 15, 2011

Week One of the 1950s Walkaway Dress Sew-Along – How to Fit Butterick Pattern 4790



Hello Ladies!   I hope you are all ready to sew some 1950s dresses!  Today we will look at how to fit your pattern, and you can cut out your fabrics any time after that.  If you do not yet have your material ready, don’t fret as the next step (sewing the darts and shoulder seams) will not come until approximately August 22nd.   Make sure you do not cut out your fabrics until you have tried on all the tissue pattern pieces to ensure it will fit properly! 

So let’s get started!  As I shared earlier, my method for fitting this dress comes in part from the advice of McCalls Patterns Fit Expert, Pati Palmer.  If you are interested in learning more about fitting your patterns (which any seamstress ought to be skilled at!) I highly recommend her excellent books on the subject. 

If you have never fitted a pattern before, the instructions may look a bit daunting, but don’t be intimidated by the extra steps in fitting!  The time you invest now to fit your pattern will help you achieve a fit that never could have happened otherwise for your dress!  And trying on your pattern pieces beforehand gives you a “sneak peek” at how the finished dress will look.  This is an invaluable skill to know, and is well worth every minute!  And as always I am happy to answer questions, so make sure you don’t skip the fitting. : ) 

To properly fit your pattern,  make sure you wear the exact undergarments that you will wear under your 1950s walkaway dress.  If you plan to wear a corset or body shaper, be sure you use that as well.  Finally, wear a camisole to pin your pattern pieces into (even if you will not be wearing a camisole under the dress.)      


1. We will start by cutting out the easiest pieces first.  Take your waist measurement over your corset (if you plan to wear one) and cut out the skirt piece accordingly.  The skirt will not need to be altered, so you can set that aside until you are ready to cut the fabric.

2. Now take your high bust measurement as shown in the photographs.  Bring the measuring tape around your chest until it fit snugly just under your arms.  In the back, the tape should fit snugly and come down to where your bra would end in the back.  (For your information, this was actually the correct way to take the bust measurement back in the late Victorian and Edwardian era!  I’ve included a photograph from the 1905 book Dressmaking, Up to Date by Butterick.) 


3. Whatever your high bust measurement is, (34″, for instance), substitute that number for the regular bust measurement and cut out your pattern pieces accordingly.  So if your high bust is 34″, you will cut out a size 12 in the dress front and back pieces.  You are probably thinking, “But that is two sizes too small – my waist measurement is nowhere near a size 12!”  And if you didn’t alter it, you would be right!   But since this dress has far too much room in the bodice and is actually quite ill-fitted on most figures, just follow the instructions exactly and it will all work out.  (You can see pictures here.)

4. Wearing your proper foundation garments, try on the back pattern piece.  (Before putting it on, pin in the dart as marked on the pattern piece.)  First of all, match the center back edge of the pattern piece exactly with your spine and pin the pattern to your camisole down this line.  At the top of the pattern piece, make sure the shoulder starts 5/8″ beyond where your actual shoulder seam would normally be to allow for the seam allowance. 

5. Bring the back piece around to the front until it fits snugly and pin in place.  Note that the front of the pattern piece is not supposed to come to the center front yet.  Measure the distance from the front edge of the pattern to the center front of your body.  (For example, 2 inches.)  Add 3/8″ to this number, and keep in mind for how much tissue paper you will add.   Now mark a straight line with a pencil down the side of the pattern piece at exactly where your side seam would be.

6.  Unpin the pattern piece from your camisole and lay on a flat surface.  On the line you marked for the imaginary side seam, cut all the way through and spread the two pieces apart.  Now comes the fun part!  Take a strip of tissue paper and place underneath these two pieces so they are exactly the same distance apart the whole way.  You are just adding the necessary width to your pattern piece, so however much was necessary to bring the front edge to the center front is how much you need to add.   Tape in place, and you have just fitted your first pattern piece! 

The picture shows the wraparound curve redrawn, which will be done in step 7.

7. So now the back piece fits you in the width, but I recommend redrawing your wraparound curve so it doesn’t hit you so low in the front bodice.  This step is very simple to complete, and you can see the photo illustrations for that here.   

8. Just as you did with the back piece, pin in the darts (all three of them!) on your front pattern piece.  Now put this on over your foundation garments, again leaving 5/8″ at the top for the seam allowance.  This time, you will pin the front edge of your pattern piece to the center front of your camisole. 

9. Bring the piece around snugly to the back and pin in place.  Since it does not come to the center back, measure the distance between the pattern edge and and your center back.  Add 3/8″ to this measurement to determine how much tissue paper you will add.  Note that this pattern piece is only supposed to come to the center back at the very top of it – it is not supposed to even come close to closing through the hip area and below, so this makes fitting it fairly easy. 

10. As you did with the back piece, mark the side seam with a pencil down the side of the pattern.  Now take your pattern off, unpin all the darts, and lay on a flat surface.  Slash the pattern down the pencil marked line and spread the pieces apart over tissue paper.  Measure the distance between them to make sure you add exactly the number you found in step 9, and tape the pattern to the added tissue paper. 

You can see that I've cut the darts out, but I don't recommend doing that until you read my dart tutorial next week.

Optional: If you want a little more coverage at the shoulder, you can add a strip of tissue paper to both front and back shoulder edges and redraw the shoulder curve freehand or with a French curve tool.

Congratulations!  You have just fitted your pattern!  If you like you can pin the front and back together at the shoulder seams and try it on to make sure it fits perfectly after the adjustments you’ve made.  (Darts would need to be pinned in place as well.)  You don’t want really any “ease” at all in the tissue paper pattern, because the fabric will have much more give to it than the paper does, and Pati Palmer says that a dress will “grow” once you get it out of tissue paper and into fabric.  This has always been my experience as well, though if you accidentally made your pattern too big you could still take in some extra fabric in the darts and at the front opening. 

Now that your pattern is properly fitted, you can layout the pieces according to the pattern instructions and cut out the material whenever you like.  Next week will sew the darts, shoulder seams, and possibly the skirt as well.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask them!  I will be away from my computer on August 16th and 17th, but as soon as I can I will answer any questions you may have.

I would like to hear what fabrics everyone has chosen!  For this version of Butterick 4790, I am going to sew a two-toned version!  The front panel will be a lovely matte satin print with antique looking roses all over it, and the skirt and wraparound piece will be a drapey pink rayon which I found for $2.50 a yard!  This dress will definitely be more “evening” than daywear, so I’m sure I’ll have to add some bows and dainty trims to finish it off.  What has everyone else planned?

title pic How to Sew a 1950s Crinoline Underskirt

Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on August 12, 2011

Hello Ladies

This is the first entry in our Walkaway Dress Sew-Along!  Since we probably need a little more time to purchase our patterns and fabric, I will begin by demonstrating how to sew a 1950s crinoline!  While the crinoline underskirts of the 50s were actually just like tiered skirts made of ruffled tulle and net, I’ve found that you can achieve the same silhouette with only two yards of stiff crinoline or netting and 1/4 yard of lining fabric.  My other reason for not making a completely authentic 1950s petticoat is that the walkaway dress has that front sheath panel which does not allow for skirt fullness in front.  So I discovered how to make a crinoline that only pouffs out in the sides and back, leaving the front piece undisturbed.  It is so simple to make, and I’ve given a tutorial on how to sew this below. 



This 1950s petticoat is for sale at

History of the 1950s Crinoline Underskirt



 After the fabric rationing of World War II, women’s “New Look” fashions required full crinolines or petticoats to hold out their enormous, circular skirts.  While I’ve never seen one of these original 50s crinoline slips in person, I’ve talked with several ladies who actually wore them while in high school in the 1950s.  They all seemed to say the same thing: 

  •  ”We would wear lots of petticoats, not just one, and when our petticoats got too soft, we would just buy another one and wear it on top of the old ones!  The rich girls would wear as many as nine petticoats at a time… ” “I remember when we were driving away on our honeymoon, the whole back rack of our car was filled with all my crinolines hanging up!’
  • “The 50s crinolines were not actually made of stiff crinoline, they were more like a tulle or netting.”
  • “These crinoline petticoats looked just like a tiered, ruffled skirt.  Each ruffled tier was bigger than the one above it.   
And one lady even shared
how to starch a 1950s crinoline petticoat:


“I remember how to starch a crinoline to make it stand out more – I would soak the petticoat in water that was mixed with Knox gelatin, then I would lay it out flat in a big circle on the basement floor.  In the morning when I went to put it on, the skirt would just stand straight out to the sides!  Of course by the end of the day it would start to wilt, but for hours it would just puff right out!”  (The petticoat shown above can be purchased at Blue Velvet Vintage.)

So now let’s get to sewing!  I recommend sewing your crinoline before you start your dress, so you will have the appropriate foundation garments to give you that classy 50s silhouette.  If you try on your dress without the crinoline, it may be just a tiny bit discouraging to look in the mirror and think, “This doesn’t look quite how I had hoped.” 

Wearing a 1950s crinoline skirt is just grand, and once you’ve sewn one you’ll be so glad you did!  It will only cost you about $4 and take just a couple of minutes, so at least by the time you finish your walkaway dress you really should make one! 

How to Sew a 1950s Crinoline Petticoat

You will need:

  • 1/4 yard of 45″ wide  lightweight lining (polyester, rayon, acetate, or China silk)
  • 2 yards of 54″ wide crinoline (stiff netting will not work as well, but is a substitute)
  • 3/4 yd. – 1 1/4 yds. of elastic (enough to go around your waist)
  1.  Take your 1/4 yard of lining and finish one long end of it (45″ wide) with a serger or zigzag stitch.  Repeat on the other long end.          
  2. Fold down one finished edge of the lining approx 1/4″ more than the width of your elastic and press.
  3. Stitch the casing closed and set lining aside.
  4. Cut the crinoline across the width every 18″, so you will now have four pieces that are 54″ by 18″.
  5. With two of your cut crinoline pieces, join the short ends of these two pieces at the selvage so that you have one long piece that is 18″ by 108″.   (Leave as one long strip, do not attach final ends to form a circle.)Now place a row of gathering stitches along one 108″ edge.
  6. Pull up the gathering threads, pin this gathered edge to the bottom of the lining piece, and stitch in place.
  7. Now take your other two pieces of crinoline and cut them across the width at 9-inch increments to give you four pieces that are 54″ by 9″.
  8. Sew the four 9″ panels together at the short ends, for one long piece that is 9″ by 216″. (Leave as one long strip, do not attach final ends to form a circle.)
  9. Gather one of the 216″ long edges, pull up the threads, and pin the gathered edge to the inside of your crinoline slip.  The bottom edge of this ruffle should match up with the bottom of the crinoline petticoat.  Once your ruffle is pinned in place, just stitch it in place!
  10. You’re almost done!  Now simply run your elastic through the casing you made in the top of the lining, and stitch the two ends of the elastic together.  Note that you do not want to catch the lining in this seam! 

You want to be able to adjust the fullness of the petticoat by sliding it off to the sides.  This way you can pull the crinoline all the way around your waist for a full circle skirt, or slide it towards the sides to wear with your walkaway dress! retro-butterick-pattern-4790                 

Once you’ve put on your walkaway dress, fasten the front piece at the back waist as indicated by the pattern, then pull the crinoline up over the front sheath part.  Fluff out the crinoline skirt for fullness, then snap the wraparound piece closed and arrange the circle skirt over the crinoline.   You can slide the lining off toward the sides, so that the only part of the dress that has crinoline underneath is the full circular part.  (And of course if you ever choose to wear this for a 50s dress that does not have an opening down the front, just distribute the gathers evenly around the elastic  and your whole skirt will pouff out!)

That’s all there is to it!  Hope you enjoy sewing it, and feel free to post any questions you might have.            butterick-4790-retro-dress-with-crinoline

On August 16th we will start cutting out our pattern to fit it, (Butterick 4790), and each following week we will make more progress on the walkaway dress.  I believe we can sew the whole thing in one month’s time, and at the end of that we’ll have a 1950s dress “party” where we will all post pictures of the finished dresses!


title pic The 1950s Walkaway Dress Sew-Along!

Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on August 8, 2011


Hello Ladies!  It looks like quite a few of us would all like to do a 1950s Walkaway Dress sew-along, so Edelweiss Patterns is going to host one here! If you have ever wondered how to sew a 1950s dress, you will love this sew-along.   Using the Butterick Retro Pattern 4790, we will make the necessary alterations to sew an authentic 1950s walkaway dressIn the next few days, I will begin posting instructions for how to get started by sewing a crinoline skirt before we jump right into the pattern itself.  It is not necessary to wear a corset or girdle with this dress (that option is up to you), but once you finish you dress you probably will want to make a crinoline for the authentic 1950s silhouette.

(In case you haven’t read my posts on how to fit this vintage dress pattern, you may want to do so before starting to sew your dress – most ladies who have sewn this pattern have complained about the fit, but I figured out how to fix Butterick 4790, so the fit shouldn’t be any problem!)

  So now is the time to pick out your fabrics for your 1950s dress! 

What Fabrics to Use for a 1950s Walkaway Dress

You can sew the walkaway dress out of virtually any woven fabric that has a fair amount of body to it.  For a classy 1950s party dress, you could use a taffeta, duchesse satin, crepe-back satin, or faille.  If you choose a cotton broadcloth, gingham, or linen, you will end up with the quintessential “1950s housewife” dress!


This was the original cover-art for the Butterick "Walk-Away" Dress.

We will most likely begin cutting out our pattern in a week or so (around August 15th), and in the meantime you could even find a bargain “practice” fabric to make sure you perfect the fit before sewing a dress out of expensive fashion fabric.  In fact, that’s exactly what I did with my orange faille 1950s dress – I made the whole dress for about $12 after finding the orange material on the clearance rack!  As it is, I almost like the practice version better than the more expensive dress anyhow.  So if anyone wants to just perfect the fit for this first time of sewing it and hold off on using luxurious material, that is totally fine.


Here's a sketch of the 1950s "walkaway dress" which I drew up for this sew-along!

As the pattern illustration shows, you can either sew the entire dress out of the same material, or opt for the front sheath panel to be a contrasting color I suggest printing off the illustration I drew above, then filling it in with different colors or even fabric swatches to get a preview of how your dress will look before you purchase a whole 5 yards of fabric.

I am starting out with a post on how to make a 1950s crinoline that is designed specifically for the walkaway dress.  You will be able to make it with just 1/4 yard of lining material and 2 yards of crinoline!

So stay tuned for more updates!  We will begin studying how to sew this 1950s dress soon.  And be sure to grab this button for the sew-along that you can add to your blog if you like. (Thanks to Sarah for sending in this original 1950s magazine ad for the Butterick Pattern!)

Here is the list of posts for this sew-along:

How to Sew a 1950s Crinoline Underskirt

Week 1 of the Sew-Along (How to Fit Butterick 4790)

Week 2 of the Sew-Along (Sewing the Darts, Skirt, and Shoulder Seams)

Week 3 of the Sew-Along (Bias Binding, Snaps, and Hemming Your Dress)

1950s Sew-Along Dress Results with Pictures!
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If you have any questions, feel free to post them below.  We’re going to have fun!